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Rail transit plans quietly take shape as region pursues its vision

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The wheels are turning as regional council begins the long ride to rail transit, planned to launch by 2017.

“I’m optimistic that we’re on track,” said Coun. Jim Wideman of Kitchener, who chairs regional planning meetings. “It needs to be on time and it needs to be on budget. I’ve staked my stake in the ground on that issue.”

Since approval in June:

* Grand River Transit has launched a new express service on Fischer-Hallman Road in Kitchener and Waterloo. It’s the first of several express routes meant to help feed passengers into trains.

* Councillors have fast-tracked by two years the $51-million widening of Weber Street to four lanes through north Kitchener. Pending land acquisition, the new plan aims to start construction by 2013. Widening will provide an underpass at Victoria Street, limiting traffic disruption by soon-to-launch GO commuter trains, and provide lanes to replace lanes lost to tracks on King Street.

* Crews have been surveying utilities, roads and sidewalks to guide design and determine what needs to be relocated to accommodate trains and buses.

* Regional government is preparing to hire or contract up to 25 people to help implement rail transit, expanding the current team of five. “We are very small and have been running very lean and mean,” said Thomas Schmidt, regional transportation commissioner. A mix of staff and consultants is expected.

* Councillors voted this week to spend $440,000 on better technology for buses to trigger green lights. Many buses would use it including Cambridge express buses, now expected to launch by 2013 as part of the rail transit system.

Planners are preparing a final transit report that’s expected to go to three public meetings in November before heading to the province for final approval. It’s expected to be the same plan council approved in June. They’re also developing a strategy to buy, install and operate trains and buses. This may include private partnerships. Council is expected to consider a procurement strategy later this year.

And planners are finalizing a work plan to guide the project until shovels go in the ground in 2014. They are also finalizing the agreement to secure up to $565 million pledged by senior governments.


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